United Flight 93 Memorial Center Opens: Pictures and Video

U.S. park rangers walk through the newly opened Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania. Mark Makela/REUTERS

It was once a quiet field, indistinguishable from any other in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania. But on the day that hijackers crashed three planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, it was the setting of events that will forever illustrate American courage and sacrifice. A revolt by passengers on board United Airlines Flight 93—a fourth hijacked plane headed toward Washington, D.C., and aimed at the U.S. Capitol or possibly the White House—forced the terrorists to deliberately crash in the field before they could reach their intended target. All on board were killed, including the hijackers.

The 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93 are honored in a memorial complex, opening Thursday at the site of the crash. The National Park Service, which operates the site, held a dedication Thursday morning for the opening of the Visitor Center and outdoor complex, with appearances by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. The Park Service will also hold a candlelight vigil, on Thursday evening.

Gordon Felt, whose brother died on United Airlines Flight 93, leads visitors past a display of the crash victims’ portraits. Mark Makela/REUTERS

An observance for the heroes of Flight 93 will take place on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Friday. The new complex includes a museum containing exhibits and artifacts commemorating the events of 9/11 as well as an overlook from which visitors can view the site of the crash.

Airplane debris recovered from the crash site can be viewed at the memorial. Mark Makela/REUTERS
Gordon Felt leads a tour through the newly opened memorial, which includes a view of the crash site. Mark Makela/REUTERS

Displays with audio clips from the plane—cellphone calls from passengers to their families—are also available. Early visitors remarked on the heart-wrenching sounds of that day.

"Hi Mom. I'm on the plane that's been hijacked. I'm just calling to tell you that I love you, and goodbye" #United93 pic.twitter.com/fsYai2kvyn

— 12críticossinpiedad (@12criticos) September 7, 2015

Data recovered from the plane's black box tracking system also captured the harrowing last moments of the flight. An animated exhibit at the museum illustrates how the terrorists dipped and rolled the aircraft in an attempt to deter the passengers as they tried to seize the controls.

An early visitor explores one of the museum’s displays. Mark Makela/REUTERS

EarthCam, an orbiting camera, captured the construction of the $26 million memorial from 2010 to 2015.